There’s nothing more disappointing than waiting all season, catering to your pepper plants only to harvest two or three peppers at the end. If you’ve had this experience, you need to learn these methods on how to increase your pepper plant yield.
For a full guide to growing hot peppers, read our step-by-step guide here.
There are several factors that play into pepper plant productivity throughout the growing season, so we’re here to help! With these simple guidelines, your plants will be producing more this season. Here are the steps to how to get more peppers per plant.
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Steps to Increase Pepper Plant Yield:
- Start your pepper plants indoors
- Use the right soil
- Use a big enough pot (for potted plants)
- Use the right fertilizer
- Prune your plants
- Optimize sunlight, heat and watering
When To Start Pepper Plants Indoors
If you live in zones 3-7 where the last frost is in April or May, starting plants indoors gives your pepper plants the longer growing season that they need. Thankfully, starting your seedlings indoors is very easy and cheap, using either a bright sunny window, or a full spectrum grow light (we like this one on Amazon, or this budget option).
In short, you should typically plant your pepper seeds indoors in early-mid March, or 8-10 weeks before the last frost. This will extend your growing season and allow pepper plants to fully mature and produce outside. Plants can be moved outdoors once the risk of frost has passed (check your last Spring frost date at Almanac.com).
Tip: If you want to encourage bushier plants, you can start seedlings in mid-January and prune the plants around March. Starting peppers really early will also allow you to prune your plants to encourage fuller plant growth and better pepper yields.
Moving Plants Outside / Hardening Off Plants
Hardening off plants can be a tricky process. Indoors, the new plants are not used to the natural elements, like wind, rain, direct sunlight and changing temperatures. In order to smoothly transition your plants outside, you must do it gradually.
Recommended schedule for transitioning plants outdoors:
- 1st week: 20 minutes of direct sunlight, or 1 hour of shade daily
- 2nd week: 1 hour of direct sunlight, or 3-4 hours of shade daily
- 3rd week: 1.5-2 hours of direct sunlight daily, or all day in shade
- 4th week: Transplant outdoors permanently
Some climates are more forgiving, and others more harsh. Keep an eye on your plants, especially during the first few days outdoors. If the plant’s leaves are looking wilted, take them inside right away and wait until tomorrow.
Using the best soil for pepper Plants
A healthy pepper plant starts with a healthy growing environment. That means using the right soil. If you plan to start your plants indoors, you’ll want to have 2 distinct soils. One for starting seedlings, and one for post-transplant.
Seed Starting Soil
When you start seeds, the soil should be devoid of nutrients. A pepper seed contains built in nutrients that help the plant germinate and grow to a certain size. Then, the plants can be moved to more nutrient-rich soil. So the best type of seed starting soil is something like Jiffy Starting Mix (get it on Amazon).
Note: It is important not to start your seeds indoors with soil taken from outside. This can bring in mold, insects and other organisms. Definitely use a bagged seed starting soil!
When you transplant pepper plants, you ideally want to have a light soil composition (on the loamy side), but most generic potting soil will work fine for potted plants. If you are planting in the ground, you can work in two or three large bags of soil per 100 square feet to ensure plants have pre-fertilized soil to move into.
If you are planning to grow your peppers in a pot, choosing the right pot can make a big difference in the size and output of your plants.
What Is the Best pot for Pepper Plants
If you are growing peppers in pots, you may be wondering what the best pot for pepper plants is. The answer is simple: 5 gallons or larger. Without enough soil, a pepper plant’s growth will be stunted, and the plant will never reach it’s full potential size. Pepper plant yields will suffer without at least 5 gallons of soil.
You’ll have to choose the right size planter pot for your growing space. There are many options on Amazon for 5 gallon pots, but if you have room for a 7 or 10 gallon pot, even better.
Tip: When first transplanting your pepper plants, be sure to pre-moisten the potting soil that they will move into so that it will take on water more easily throughout the growing season.
After you have transplanted your plants outdoors, it is time to begin a fertilizing schedule.
Using the best fertilizer for pepper Plants
Peppers need a healthy balance of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium to grow well. When you buy fertilizer, you will often see three bold numbers on the packaging. These correspond to these three elements and their quantities in that particular fertilizer.
How Often to Fertilize Pepper Plants
Don’t fertilize immediately after transplanting. Wait at least 2-3 weeks to allow the root system to integrate with the new soil. Then you can begin your fertilizing regimen.
Depending on the quality of your soil, you should fertilize once every 2-4 weeks when plants are full grown. To keep it simple, we recommend using a 5-5-5 fertilizer every two weeks after pepper plants have been transplanted to maximize pepper yields. This is a relatively low concentration of fertilizer, so you likely won’t harm your plants with excess nutrients. But more importantly, you will ensure your plants receive enough nutrition to continue growing.
After plants are full sized, you can transition to a lower nitrogen fertilizer like a 3-5-5, or a 5-10-10. However, this isn’t completely necessary. A lower amount of nitrogen can help increase fruit production instead of an abundance of leafy growth. As long as you don’t use too much nitrogen (like a 10-5-5), you shouldn’t run into this issue. So, feel free to keep it simple with a 5-5-5 all season long.
How To Prune Pepper Plants
Tip: Read our dedicated article on pruning here for the best guide to pruning pepper plants!
Pruning is easy. It involves a pair of scissors and your pepper plants. However, before you start snipping away, first make sure you know where to prune pepper plants.
The goal when pruning is to direct the energy of the plant to where you want it to grow. For example, you want your pepper plant to focus it’s growth on producing actual peppers, and not on producing more leaves and branches. By pruning, we take away some stems and non-essential parts of the pepper plant so that growth is focused where we want it.
Using The Right Tool to Prune Peppers
When pruning your plants, make sure you are using sharp scissors. Do not use your fingers to break the stems, as this can cause you to crush the stem. A knife can work as well, but make sure it is sharp enough to easily slice through without crushing your stems.
Pruning Young Pepper Plants
On young starter plants, about 3-5 inches tall, you can prune your pepper plants just past the second or third node (this is where new sets of leaves begin). You are stopping the upward growth of the plant by cutting off the top of the plant. This will encourage your young pepper plant to grow outward, and establish a sturdy base.
Note: Make sure you leave at least 2-3 sets of leaves on your plant. Without leaves, the plant will not be able to photosynthesize!
Pruning Mid-Sized Pepper Plants
Once your pepper plants have transitioned outdoors and have reached about 1 foot tall (still growing), you may want to prune the plants again. At this stage, the goal is to encourage a sturdy stem and a wider, more bushy plant. If the plants look healthy and are not too tall and thin, you do not need to prune at this stage.
Cut any stems that are shooting upwards from the main stem, and encourage the plant to stay lower and bushier. Again, we are cutting cleanly, just above the node.
You can also prune away any early flowers that have bloomed. This is to allow the plant to fully develop before it starts putting energy into producing peppers.
Note: Do not prune growing plants too late in the season. If you prune with only 40 or 50 days left in the season, you will likely miss your harvest before the frost arrives.
Pruning Late Pepper Plants
As the season wears on and you begin harvesting, you shouldn’t need to prune your plant during the season. However, as the season draws to an end, and the final frost is approaching, you can do one final pruning to help the plant finish producing its final peppers.
When the first frost of winter is 2-3 weeks away, cut away any branches that do not have near-ripe fruits. Leave enough leaves to continue photosynthesis. This will help your final harvest mature before the plants die.
It is worth noting that pruning is not required, but will help stimulate your plant and help increase your pepper plant yield.
Sunlight & Heat Stress for Pepper Plants
Pepper plants require full sunlight throughout the day. This means 10-12 hours of direct sunlight during the summer months. These are ideal conditions, but most gardeners can still manage to get peppers out of 6 hours or even less sunlight. The amount of sunlight will directly affect your pepper plant’s yield.
Try to find the best location in your outdoor area to get the most sunlight possible during the day, especially in the morning and mid-day. If you live near trees, moving a plant 10 feet can make a huge difference in how much sunlight it receives!
Avoiding Heat Stress in Plants
Heat stress can be a gardener’s nightmare. It can cause wilting leaves, lower yields and generally worse outcomes. However, there are some things you can do, for both indoor and outdoor grows, to help survive a heat wave (85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher).
- Water (a lot)! Plants will consume more water during a heat wave. Keep plants moist, but don’t over soak
- Provide temporary shade. Use a beach umbrella or other object to provide your pepper plants some shade during the afternoon hours. Between 12:00-4:00 PM are usually the hottest hours of the day.
- Don’t fertilize or prune during a heat wave. These activities should wait until the heat wave is over.
- Expose early plants to cold temperatures before moving them outdoors. This is called the “cold treatment” and can help prepare plants for more varied temperatures.
- Keep a thermometer near your plants. Temperatures can vary in different areas of a yard. If your plants happen to be in a heat zone, maybe you should consider moving them if possible.
For the most part, peppers are okay with hot temperatures, but any plant has its limits. Watch for the common signs of heat stress like pepper plants with flowers but no peppers, stunted growth, and wilted leaves.
For a full growing guide, including how to choose a fertilizer and soil type, read our article about growing Habanero peppers here!
We hope these pepper gardening tips will help you get better yields from your pepper plants. Share your pictures with us, we love seeing the amazing peppers that people are growing all around the world!